Tramel: Is Spencer Sanders the right fit for Oklahoma State football's offense?
ORLANDO, Fla. — Camping World Stadium sits about 19 miles from Disney World. The latter claims to be the happiest place on Earth, but that really depends on the crowds. Sort of like the former depends on the scoreboard.
The ballpark certainly was a joyous venue for the Cowboys three years ago, when OSU beat Virginia Tech 30-21 in the Camping World Bowl. The Cowboys return to Orlando with a different name on the bowl and a different quarterback taking snaps.
Does it seem like forever since Mason Rudolph finished off a glorious career? It wasn’t. Only three years ago this week, Rudolph threw for 351 yards in his Cowboy swan song, and that wasn’t a huge total for Rudolph — it was his lowest total in his final five OSU games.
The Cowboys play Miami on Tuesday in what now is known as the Cheez-It Bowl, and the OSU Air Raid made famous by Brandon Weeden and Rudolph is nothing like its former self.
With second-year quarterback Spencer Sanders, OSU is more tailback and quarterback-run oriented. And not as vibrant offensively. Have the Cowboys drifted from their roots with Sanders?
Coaches and players say no, and certainly a strong offensive performance against Miami would make everyone feel better about 2021. But if OSU, coming off a 42-3 thrashing of Baylor, stays on the A/B rotation it has shown down the stretch and plays poorly in the Florida sunshine, offensive questions will persist.
Especially with a tall drink of water, freshman Shane Illingworth, waiting in the wings and showing signs of being in the Weeden/Rudolph lineage of pocket passers.
But Mike Gundy has defended Sanders, accurately pointing out that OSU’s makeshift offensive line would have tormented any quarterback. And receivers Dillon Stoner and Tylan Wallace, both of whom go back to the Rudolph days, hail Sanders.
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“I think any time you have a quarterback like Spencer, a dual-threat, that just really creates more problems for the defense, honestly,” said Wallace, OSU’s latest superstar receiver.
Sanders’ passing numbers don’t rival Rudolph’s, of course, but are similar to Taylor Cornelius’ in his 2018 season.
Completion percentage: Sanders 62.8% and 61.8% the last two seasons; Rudolph ranged from 62.3% to 65.0% his final three years, and Cornelius was 59.4%.
Yards per pass: Sanders 8.4 and 8.2 the last two seasons; Rudolph ranged from 8.9 to 10.0, a significant upgrade, and Corndog was 8.2.
Quarterback rating: Sanders 145.4 and 139.1; Rudolph ranged from 149.1 to 170.6, and Cornelius was 144.7.
Touchdown-to-interception ratio: This is where Sanders falls short, 16/11 and 10/8; Rudolph was 21/9, 28/4 and 37/9, and Corndog was 32/13.
Also, Sanders has missed five games over two seasons due to injury. Rudolph missed one over three years and Cornelius none in 2018. That goes with the territory of a mobile quarterback.
“There's definitely more quarterback run worked into the gameplan,” said offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn. “He's really good on his feet and you don't want to take that away from him.”
But Dunn says Sanders is not deficient in the pass game. Says that any quarterback the Cowboys recruit can make the throws.
And give Sanders credit. He appears to have the desired intangibles.
“I think the biggest thing that you see out of him, a guy that's got some swagger about him,” said Miami defensive coordinator Blake Barker. “Great toughness. I think he's a natural leader, at least that's what the tape shows from the outside looking in. Smart football player.”
Perhaps holding Sanders to the Rudolph ideal is foolish. Rudolph is an NFL quarterback. He was 32-9 as the OSU QB. Sanders’ 11-6 mark is not up to the Cowboys’ standard of the last decade, but OSU could look a long time for the next Rudolph.
For now, the Cowboys are looking only for a victory over Miami, which would make not just Camping World Stadium but OSU football headquarters quite a happy place between now and next September.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.